"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."

Borges

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Carry Me Like Water



This lush and touching novel by Benjamin Alire Saenz is simply astounding. The book is a story of interconnected stories of a most amazing cast of characters. There is the thoughtful and deaf Diego, living in El Paso, working on his suicide note and making friends with a cholo named Mundo whom he finds stabbed in a dumpster, Mary or the Virgin Mary and wise, irreverent Luz. There is Jake and Joaquin a gay couple struggling with Joaquin’s dying of AIDS, Helen and Eddy the rich couple in Northern California awaiting their first child and Lizzie, the nurse who one day while tending an AIDS patient, finds he was her twin brother, that he has given her his gift of being psychic and that she is really a Mexican named Maria de Lourdes. Each character is a puzzle waiting to be solved and amazing in their reality.

Each of these complex and tormented characters has their own story and each story dovetails neatly into one another into a rich and delicious stew of a novel. The book deals with AIDS, love, secrets and the ghosts of the past. We find that Helen is really Maria Elena or Nena and she is Diego’s sister. Eddy, her husband has his own past as a molested child to come to terms with and a brother to find. Jake is dealing with his anger and grief at losing Joaquin. And then there is my favorite character in the book, Lizzie. Lizzie can leave her body, she is coming to terms with her new found psychic ability and finds something in herself to give. She holds Jake and Joaquin together and becomes their anchor as they battle with illness and death.

The river too, is a large character in this book. It is the river in El Paso that separates Mexico from Texas. Diego and Luz spend Sunday mornings on the river watching the swimmers from the other side trying to cross over into a better life. The book deals with prejudice and hate, struggling to make a life in this land, gives an amazing view of what people give up to come here and what they find when they do.

Diego is thoughtful, reflective and kind. He speaks without speaking, says much in his thoughts and handwritten notes to Mundo or Luz. He is the heart of the book, the story within a story.

All in all, it is an amazing story, a commentary on life, on the issues that plague us today like border crossings, prejudice, AIDS, being Chicano, being gay, love, death and fear. The dialogue is crisp and interesting, each chapter seamlessly flows like the river into the next. It is poetic which is not surprising considering Saenz is an eloquent Chicano poet. Like his book, In Perfect Light, he has created a masterpiece of imagery, color and a unique and beautiful story revolving around a central theme.

5 comments:

iliana said...

Hi Gina - Thank you for stopping by my blog. I enjoyed looking through your reviews and will definitely be back. You've reviewed some books that are on my to be read list. Will also be linking you :)

msedano said...

I'm catching up on my reading and am happy to see your review of this outstanding novel. When I reviewed it my question addressed its "chicanismo"--is this a chicano novel, or has it crossed an invisible border between lo nuestro and los otros?
Let's compare notes:
http://members.aol.com/msedano/carryme.htm

I'm glad Saenz has a new title out. His writing so impressive in that first cover, I'm looking forward to seeing how he carries his talent into the new one.

Coco said...

Hi Gina,
I just wanted to say thank you for posting the book reviews.
Some books that you've mentioned, I've read and others are on my list to be read... Gracias!
Yes, I have you as a link! : )

Take Care.
Cuidate!

http://msestrella-duran.blogspot.com

Elenamary said...

We are trying to do a blogtitlán meetup, can you join? http://loteriachicana.net/?p=147

joseph said...

Thanks for your great review, Gina. I have so many books in my personal library that I've still not read. Carry Me Like Water is one of them. I can't go to a yardsale or an independent bookstore without plopping down buckage for books. Now I know what I'm going to read next. Brava!